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"The most important thing to realize is that you are not alone and you are far from the only person struggling to live up to that invisible standard of masculinity."

About Matt:

My name is Matt and I’m the Founder and CEO of tethr, a men’s peer to peer support platform for all men. We provide every man – regardless of race, sexual orientation, or economic status – with a safe, barrier free space where they can ask questions to community members, receive support and feedback from other men on the issues affecting their life, and openly discuss any aspect of their life where they want answers from other men who have ‘been there’.

Matt’s Story

Matt

WHAT WAS THE MAJOR TURNING POINT IN YOUR RECOVERY FROM DEPRESSION?

One day in October 2018 I was talking to a friend of mine, who happened to be a therapist-in-training, in a desperate attempt to figure out what else I could do to make the pain stop. He invited me to join a men’s group with him. I was no stranger to group therapy at this point and figured things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

While I didn’t immediately realize it, going to that men’s group would profoundly alter me and the course of my life. That first night, a group of men I’d never met held space for me to be exactly who I was. I was encouraged to be entirely open and to say exactly what I was going through. They honoured my courage for speaking so honestly and acknowledged how painful it must be to be exactly where I was at that moment. No one tried to change anything, they simply listened.

They calmly acknowledged where they identified with my story with the soft placement and tapping of their fist on their heart. I felt seen that night. While I wasn’t a stranger to telling people that I wasn’t okay, this felt different. I felt like some of the burden of my experience had been lifted off my shoulders by the simple fact that here was a group of men who could connect with what I was feeling on a profoundly deep level. My experience suddenly wasn’t something that isolated me from people, it was something that connected me to them.

WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT REALLY HELPED?

For me the biggest thing has been finding a safe place to fully explore the feelings and past trauma that had led to me shutting down emotionally for so many years. Finding spaces where I could safely explore years of unexpressed anger, grief, shame, and a deep sadness that was poisoning me from the inside.

In these spaces I was able to acknowledge, express, and not feel shame around the anger that I felt deeply inside for the things that had happened to me and the needs I had that went unmet when I was a child. I also discovered that I was profoundly unhappy with the way I was living my life and needed to change things quickly. Finally, I realized there was something to these open and vulnerable conversations with other men that was profoundly impacting me and shifting how I felt for the better.

The second big thing that helped was realizing that having emotions, feeling inadequate, and struggling to find my path didn’t make me less of a man, it made me human. In my recovery from suicidal depression it has very much crystallized in my mind that outdated notions of what it meant to be a man kept me sick for a long time and sometimes still stands in the way of me feeling like I can be truly authentic.

It’s my personal experience that authentic connection and true healing can occur simply by having these conversations in a forum that encourages and supports them. I know from my own experience that consistently having real conversations with other men of integrity has profoundly shifted my personal outlook, attitudes, and behaviours. I can honestly say that I feel like a better man today because of this work.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER GUYS FIGHTING DEPRESSION?

Begin the process of allowing yourself to be seen as an imperfect human being that struggles and has emotions. There is tremendous freedom in knowing that you don’t have to have it all together. We have been fed a story of an impossible standard that we need to live up to as men from societal conditioning, the media, and in some cases the male influences in our lives.

Putting a lid on my feelings and not having a healthy outlet to express them created a toxicity within me that would manifest as persistent anxiety, difficulty finding motivation to do anything, a decreased sex drive, and engaging in a variety of negative behaviours that were harmful to myself and everyone my life touched.

A big thing I’ve learned since first beginning this journey is that I’m not the only man deeply struggling. This is a pervasive problem that has culminated in a largely hidden crisis in men’s mental health. So the MOST important thing to realize is that you are not alone and you are far from the only person struggling to live up to that invisible standard of masculinity.

As such, my biggest piece of advice is find a community that can provide a container where you can begin this process and make sure the values of that community resonate with you. I would suggest a community where there is support, guidance and an ability to interact with other men who are on the same path as you. Of course, the reason I created tethr was because I felt like there weren’t enough of these spaces that were readily available to men and could be accessed on-demand, regardless of where you were. If our values and our mission resonate with you we would be honoured to have you join us on your journey to becoming the man that you know you can be.

Matt Zerker, Founder & CEO at tethr, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.insta Twitter logo Download Tethr on App Store